Because he asked me to.
That’s it. There’s no other reason. As we flipped through the park district catalog, I pointed out a cool sports class I thought he might like, and then an art one, but he shrugged off both. When we came to the page with an image of some sweet little girls in tutus and ballet shoes, he immediately pointed and said, “I want to do that!”
Carefully measuring my tone, but pretty darn surprised, I responded, “Ballet? You want to take a dance class?”
“YES!” was his enthusiastic reply.
So I signed him up. If I’m being perfectly honest, I was kind of confused. This is my little boy who is obsessed with construction equipment, fire trucks, and basically any activity that involves a ball. As a result, he’s read lots of books and watched lots of library videos about all these things that people would usually call, “boy stuff,” even though I kind of hate that label. I honestly couldn’t even figure out where he would have even seen ballet before- while little girls are bombarded with books about princesses and ballerinas, that’s not really a thing for little boys, you know? And frankly I find the whole princess and ballerina thing pretty obnoxious in general, so I can’t say we really even have any of those books for Grace. And it’s completely possible, I suppose, that he never actually had heard of ballet before he saw the picture in the catalog and thought it looked cool. I don’t know. But that’s what he picked.
I was proud of him for trying something different, I really was. But even before I signed him up I was nervous. I was fairly certain he’d be the only boy in the class, and I worried that someone would say something unkind or rude about him taking a ballet class in front of him. Four years old seems young to me to have that kind of gender bias pushed on you. But I kept an open mind and as the day of his first class approached and he talked excitedly about it, I got kind of excited, too. Heck, for all I know, my little klutz might somehow turn into the next Mikhail Baryshnikov. A mom can dream, right?
The first day of class, I wasn’t anticipating any problems- Joe’s been in these little classes at the library and park district since before he could talk and has never had any anxiety about it.
But as we walked in to the hallway crowded with kids waiting for siblings to get out of class and some waiting for their classes to begin, I saw a little anxiety creep into his face. Then it happened. A precocious little girl, maybe five or six years old, walked by and asked him, “Are you doing dance class?”
“But you’re a boy!”
Well there it was. What I had been nervous about. Joey looked up at me and I shrugged, hoping to convey that I didn’t see what him being a boy had anything to do with it, without making it into a big deal. But I think that moment of uncertainty had done it’s damage. My normally social, go-get-em boy got very quiet. And when I asked him if he wanted to change out of his boots and put his ballet shoes on, he shook his head. Tears filled his eyes. He didn’t want to do it. At first, I thought it was just a moment of nervousness and would pass. But as the minutes passed, it became clear that he was not. going. to. do. it. No amount of cajoling, stern looks, or desperate pleas could get this kid to put his ballet shoes on. I’m not going to lie. I was embarrassed. I looked at the situation from the point of view of the other moms watching, like, “Why is this woman forcing her little boy to take ballet when he clearly doesn’t want to?”
I know this is the point where I should say something about not caring about what other people think, but can we all just pause and appreciate just how ridiculous we must have looked? Forlornly, I sat on the side, watching the class go on, my boy sitting on my lap, crying quietly, but all the more insistently each time I whispered, “Doesn’t that look fun? Wouldn’t you like to go join them?” No. He didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that that little comment by an oblivious little girl was such a huge deal to him that it scarred him or anything. I think he was nervous and the idea that maybe he didn’t belong there put him juuuuust over the edge. And that’s ok. Haven’t we all had experiences like that? And my poor boy at least had the benefit of having this happen when his mama was there to comfort him, and with a teacher who patiently waited until he was ready to join in.
Which wound up being two weeks later. And you know what? That was ok. He watched intently through two entire classes, from the sidelines. Then on the third Thursday… I bribed him with a cupcake afterwards if he participated. Worked like a charm. He walked into the studio, grabbed the teacher’s hand and exclaimed, “I’m gonna dance today!” And he left so excited about ballet (and his promised cupcake) that I finally remembered why I signed him up in the first place. Because he wanted to do it. By the end of the 6 week class, he begged me to sign him up for the next session. He adores his teacher. He’s crazy about his classmates. He loves showing anyone and everyone his “moves”.
This might seem like a story without a point. But the point is this: signing him up for that ballet class was one of the best things I could have done for my son. Not because it’s teaching him to go against the grain when he wants to, or even that just because he might be different than the others in his class (in this case, a boy), that doesn’t make him belong any less. Rather it taught both of us that when we reach out of our comfort zone a little, we can be richly rewarded. He has never once mentioned that little girl who pointed out he was the only boy in ballet class. I don’t think it made much of an impression on him. But he brings up often that he was really shy and nervous and first, but then he gave it a try and now he really likes it. And I think that’s an incredibly valuable lesson that only experience can teach. And who knows? Maybe I actually will get to see him dance in Swan Lake someday.